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Recycling for life in Argentina
Teresa Bo in Buenos Aires
Entire families of 'cartoneros' have been forced to adopt recycling as a permanent job
Al Jazeera reports on the poor Argentinians whose struggle to survive is also helping the environment.

'Cartoneros', or 'recyclers', have become one of the enduring consequences of the Argentinean economic crisis of 1999 – 2002, when the peso devalued by 70 per cent.

Their job has meant dramatic results for the environment by reducing the amount of solid waste going into landfill by 25 per cent.

Cartoneros collect cardboard, plastic and glass from the more salubrious neighbourhoods of Buenos Aires and then sell it to recycling companies.

According to some estimates, there are now 30,000 cartoneros in Buenos Aires.

While Argentina shows signs of economic recovery, entire families are looking for garbage on the streets in order to translate their findings into cash, in a job that pays less than $10 per week.

In a country where almost half of the population lives in poverty, this has become the only way to bring food into their homes.

"Everything I pick up - cardboard, nylon – I separate it here and I take it home to sell"
Jose Luis Caseres, cartoneroOne cartonero, Jose Luis Caseres, who used to work for a construction company but became unemployed following the economic crisis said: "Everything I pick up - cardboard, nylon – I separate it here and I take it home to sell."

Every evening, Caseres rides the 'White Train' – a special service provided by the government to transport the cartoneros from the industrial belts and slums to the wealthier districts of Buenos Aires.

Since the train leaves at dawn, most Argentines don't see the cartoneros embark on their work. For this reason, many cartoneros have taken to calling the train El Tren del Fantasma, or the "Ghost Train".

The train is a stripped-down wreck, without seats, heat during the winter months, and air-conditioning for the summer.

Born from necessity

Lidia Nain, Argentina's social development secretary, said the cartoneros were born out of necessity.


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